Tag Archives: garden

Crape myrtle tree: Beauties that can take the heat

4 Sep
Crape myrtle flower

The Dry Garden: crape myrtle trees

An artist friend of mine calls crape myrtles “living bouquets.” In the hottest weeks of summer, the man to whom we owe thanks for the white, pink, lavender and red bouquets now before us, often un-watered and somehow unwilted, is Donald Roy Egolf. From 1958 until his death in 1990, Egolf was a plant breeder at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. His contribution was so outstanding that this column, besides constituting the deepest of bows to those wonderful plants, bears the suggestion that we rename the crape myrtle the Egolf tree, or Egolfus donaldii, so as to take in many new compact and shrub forms.

This is only half in jest. The existing names are crying out for a makeover. In the 18th century, Linnaeus, the Swedish father of modern systematics, honored countryman Magnus von Lagerström by donning the crape myrtle genus Lagerstroemia. As more and more variations — trees as well as woody shrubs — were discovered in India, China, Japan and Australia (never Sweden), the genus grew.
Crape myrtle barkSomewhere along the line, the observation that the flowers had crepe-like texture led to the trees attaining the common American names “crepe myrtle,” “crape myrtle” and “crapemyrtle.” The one-word spelling, preferred by the National Arboretum, evidently came about because it’s not a true myrtle. Computer spell-check programs prevented that from catching on.
It’s no better when trying to explain crepe versus crape, a task that reduced the writer of an information sheet for the horticultural extension service Floridata to exclaim, “It’s a common name and since there’s no authority that manages common names for plants, you can spell (or call it) whatever you like!”

The crape myrtle became popular in spite of dowdy nomenclature because of exceptional mettle and formidable beauty. The early and most popular introduction to the U.S., Lagerstroemia indica, is notable for the streaked taupe- and sage-colored trunks, exceptionally hard and smooth wood, and blushing variety of flowers.
Those flowers! Drooping clusters, blameless and somehow cool in late summer glare. Describing them, the normally soft voice of Margaret Pooler, Egolf’s successor at the National Arboretum, became suddenly intense when she got to the “fantastic diversity from pinks to purples to red.”

Yet susceptibility to mildew, which can deform those fantastic flowers, dogged the reputation of Lagerstoemia indica for more than a century. In the 1960s, it was part of what inspired Egolf to embark on what became an epic breeding program crossing indica with the Japanese species, Lagerstroemia fauriei.
“Fauriei gives the plants the mildew resistance,” Pooler said. After what Pooler can only guess were “tens of thousands” of experimental crosses, then successive testing by cooperating nurseries, a new generation of hardy crape myrtle cultivars was born. The National Arboretum introductions are immediately recognizable through tribal names such as Hopi, Arapaho and Muskogee.

Crape myrtle leaves“Lagerstroemia fauriei tend to be trees,” Pooler said. “They’re big plants. Faurieis all have white flowers and they don’t rebloom.” By contrast, some indicas not only come in a rainbow of colors but also rebloom. Shortly after the flowers fall in September, a spectacular autumn leaf show begins. By the time leaves running the gamut from orange to deep burgundy have fallen, the crape myrtle will have given more than four months of spectacular color. (That colorful foliage pictured at right was photographed in Woodland Hills in a previous September.)

To the eyes of connoisseurs, however, bare-limbed winter might be the tree’s best season. When it comes to crape myrtle bark, whether it is the lighter sage tones of the indica or cinnamon color of the fauriei, for elegance of shedding and suppleness of underwood, the crape myrtle can rival its barky beauties manzanitas and madrone any day.

To Pooler, who oversees open-air trial grounds in the relatively wet climate of the mid-Atlantic, it comes as a surprise that Westerners prize crape myrtles for their drought tolerance. Some USDA maps don’t even show California as part of the plant’s growing range. Yet if you look where university extension programs and nurseries have embraced crape myrtles, you will find locales that are hot and often dry: Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and California. To the mind of Nicholas Staddon, director of new introductions for California’s Monrovia Nursery, these plants bring crucial late summer grace notes to regions that by late August and early September are deep red on the USDA drought monitor.
“As a general statement, Lagerstroemia need regular watering when they first start out,” Staddon said, “but it is absolutely amazing how drought tolerant they become when they’re larger.”

His recommendations for Southern California homeowners include the hybrid shrub or small tree Pecos for pink blossoms, dark bark and maroon fall leaves; the indica cultivar Catawba for violet flowers and red-orange fall leaves; and hybrid Zuni for purple flowers and orange-red autumnal leaves. A favorite of his is the Oklahoma State University indica cultivar Centennial Spirit for a large shrub or tree because of its deep red, long-blossoming flowers.
For homeowners who have small spaces, are looking for low-growing shrubs or wish to grow crape myrtles in pots, Staddon also suggests the University of Georgia dwarf series of Cherry Dazzle, Raspberry Dazzle and Snow Dazzle.

The potential for partnering crape myrtles of different sizes (from ground cover to tree), of different flower colors (white to burgundy), different fall foliage (orange to crimson) and different bark types (green-gray to cinnamon) is so wide open as to defy planting suggestions. They work beautifully in Asian gardens but look ideal in a cottage garden. When artfully pruned, their grace as multilimbed open trees make them a Modernist’s dream. For a native plant lover like me, they partner perfectly with shrub and ground-cover cultivars of manzanita. Bees do browse, and Pooler noted a light scent.

Crape myrtle sun

In every instance, they are water-wise, so tough that city of Pasadena urban forester Darya Barar likes to use them in tough spots, such as a row of little tree wells along Fair Oaks Avenue, where a larger, arguably more beneficial shade tree simply wouldn’t fit. In this thankless situation, Barar’s succession of cleverly selected crape myrtles responds with a blushing bouquet of summer flowers and autumn foliage. (The photo above shows an unwatered tree after a week in which temperatures spiked above 100.)

In home settings, Barar and Staddon see crape myrtles as ideal candidates for patio plants. To get young trees established in the ground in the foothills, Barar recommends a drizzling hose running for 45 minutes once a week in dry season. Potted plants will need daily water outside of dormancy and periodic soaking when dormant; they will endure pots, but if you can, put them in the ground.

For those who do their own pruning, Clemson University has produced an excellent guide. This much is obvious to the National Arboretum’s Pooler: If your crape myrtle needs regular hacking, it’s in the wrong place. A perfect pruning maintenance regime would be doing nothing. Apart from the lightest clearing of dead growth and pruning of suckers if you want to preserve a more open or tree form, these generally slow-growing plants should not require regular work, or water. Most appreciate full sun.

If it comes to taking out a badly positioned or hopelessly mutilated crape myrtle, harvest it carefully, retaining the limbs in long sections. Even call a local carpenter. This is prized hardwood. Also expect the roots to resprout. While this can be a nuisance with grafted plants such as roses, the beauty with crape myrtles (largely propagated from cuttings, so have true-to-breed rootstock) is that they flower on new growth each season. This means that suckering roots from a felled tree will emerge as a clump of late summer flowers. According to Pooler, in cold regions where crape myrtles can’t survive the frost but roots do live in mulched beds, gardeners use them as annuals.

Crape myrtle white Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden horticulturist Frank McDonough mans the county’s help line for troubled gardeners. Many of the problems that he hears about with crape myrtles, he said, concern mildew on indicas set in lawn and inundated by sprinklers. Another common insult, he said, is weed whacking scars on trunks — yet another reason to reduce or remove water hogging lawn and offer your neighbors hardy and beautiful flowering trees and shrubs instead. The funniest note from McDonough wasn’t about how we water crape myrtles but how they water us. If you’ve ever wondered where fine droplets came from on a clear sunny day in summer, look to your crape myrtle, he said. The “spitting,” he said, comes from the flowers. (That’s the white crape myrtle Natchez, photographed last month in Jackson, N.C.)

Egolf’s obituary in the Washington Post records that after nearly 30 years of crossing crape myrtles, he produced 23 named cultivars. The idea — Egolf’s idea — behind the tribal series names, explained Pooler, was to identify them immediately as a product of the National Arboretum. It was pure gravy that these trees proved so durable in the dry West. So let’s keep the tribal names begun by Egolf and change the botanical and common ones. Here’s to the Egolf tree, whether it be a Comanche, Sioux or Cheyenne. In fact, from this fan out West, a request to the National Arboretum: How about an Egolf Gabrielino?
— Emily Green
Crape myrtle tree: Beauties that can take the heat

Gardening since 1910, San Diego’s Oldest Retail Garden Center: Staghorn Fern

7 Aug

Gardening since 1910, San Diego’s Oldest Retail Garden Center: Staghorn Fern: “Staghorn ferns were at one time considered a very difficult plant to grow yet with just a little care you too can enjoy their beauty. Sta…”

>Tiny Edens on Urban Rooftops in NYC

25 Jun


>The Soul Care House-Warming Party in Mission Hills Video

20 Jun


My folks hosted an open house at The Soul Care House in Mission Hills last weekend. The weather was incredible and the crowd really came out for this opening! I will attach the menu asap and repost. Enjoy the photos. Scroll down for video.

Owners, Elaine and Ken Hamilton

Hosts, Julia Engstrom-Hiddleson and Gregg Hiddleson

Live Folk music played during the event.

>Misson Hills Nursery is great daytime walking destination

7 Jun


Blooms around Mission Hills

I live around the corner from Mission Hills Nursery. It’s one of my favorite daytime walks to clear my head and breathe. If you haven’t spent time you must cruise by and see what they have to offer. Inside the main building they sell fertilizers, bird feeders and some home goods…I love the candles in the photos below. Yummy smells. There is even a small SALE wall back there too! Outside they feature a raised bed vegetable patch and wonderful succulent plantings. Be sure to walk back along the back fence and enjoy blooms of bougainvillea. Roses from bushes to climbers are gorgeous! Enjoy photos of blooms and fruits.

Mission Hills Nursery Link

Yelp Review Link

Boutique farm taking root near Mount Helix – SignOnSanDiego.com

29 May






Boutique farm taking root near Mount Helix – SignOnSanDiego.com.

>A Feng Shui Cube Brings Intimacy to a Loft

12 Feb


Joe Fletcher for The New York Times
At night, a cube in the feng shui teacher Liu Ming’s loft functions as a giant lantern.

In a Buddhist’s large, open apartment, a giant box for sleeping, working and meditating.

THERE was a time when Liu Ming, a teacher of Chinese traditional medicine and feng shui in Oakland, Calif., did a few hundred prostrations a day as part of his practice of Tibetan Buddhism — full prostrations, that is, in which you begin standing and end with your head on the floor. That wouldn’t work these days, as Mr. Liu’s meditation area is on top of an eight-foot cube in his loft. Were he to stand up, Mr. Liu would hit his head on the ceiling. 
Joe Fletcher for The New York Times

Mr. Liu works, sleeps, meditates and drinks tea in his cube. A thick red cord connects the cube to an electrical outlet, which enables him to brew tea in an electric kettle for a traditional tea ceremony. (Modern concessions must be made.)

To move about the meditation area, which also serves as a tearoom, Mr. Liu has to slouch or crawl. That’s fine with him: In a traditional Japanese tearoom, the ceilings are so low you have to crawl in, he says; you were meant to feel humble. Also, says Mr. Liu, who routinely goes into teaching mode, the doors of a Japanese tearoom were designed to be small, to prevent samurai warriors from entering with their swords, or at least to prevent them from drawing their swords. 
All very interesting, but in a large, open loft, why would anyone want to build a cube that contains a sleeping area and a study as well as a meditation room? 
“Having lived in a loft for five or six years,” Mr. Liu says, “I absolutely love it.” 
Joe Fletcher for The New York Times

A shoji screen between the bedroom and office and plexiglass walls on two sides of the roof allow light to pass through the cube.

When he visits friends who live in large apartments, he says, “I get back pain, I think, ‘Why do you have such low ceilings?’ ” 
But roomier spaces have one drawback, he continues: “There is no cozy.” 
Since when is “cozy” a feng shui concept? 
Joe Fletcher for The New York Times

Wheels enable Mr. Liu, who teaches in his home, to move the cube when he needs to create more space.

“In feng shui, we talk about the harmony in the place that you live in,” Mr. Liu says. “The cube evolved out of wanting cozy with the option of keeping a big, open space at the same time. And we added wheels for feng shui purposes. Now that it is portable, I can spin it on an axis, I can point my head and point my desk in different compass directions for different projects. If I am writing something and feel blocked, I can get up and move the room.” 
Now he’s got the writer’s attention. Does it help? 
“Yeah, it does,” Mr. Liu says. “And it’s playful.” 
Do not underestimate the importance of playful when talking to Mr. Liu, who is not of the deadly earnest school of Eastern teacher. 
Can you really make a living by teaching Chinese medicine and feng shui? he is asked. 
“Yeah,” he says, “Of course, you have to live in Berkeley.” 
Mr. Liu is 63 and has studied Tibetan Buddhism and other Eastern religions since he was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (which he dropped out of, in keeping with the spirit of the ’60s).
When you see him, it is immediately evident that, despite his name, he is not Chinese. His given name is Charles Belyea, and he was born in Boston, of French-Canadian parents. His father was a businessman, and his parents spent so much time competing as ballroom dancers that Mr. Liu tells people he was raised by Fred and Ginger. The name Liu Ming was given to him by a Daoist teacher who “adopted” him when he was 31. (In keeping with the Chinese custom, his last name, Liu, comes first.) 

The architect’s plan shows hidden storage spaces, including a drawer in the stairs where Mr. Liu can store his shoes before going upstairs to meditate

But back to the cube: Mr. Liu and his architect, Toshi Kasai, have come to regard it as a living thing and, indeed, it has an umbilical cord: a broad, red cable connecting it to an electrical source. 
“The extension is the cube’s lifeline,” Mr. Kasai says. “We wanted that cable to look like a little tail. We wanted to make sure the cube looked alive, charged by something.” 
MR. LIU first became interested in the idea of using a cube to organize his living space a number of years ago, when he saw an article about a couple in Europe who had bought a barn because they needed space for a workshop, but who wanted a separate area for themselves and their children. 
“They’d built a plywood cube,” he said. “There were touch doors you could open up, and a kitchen and a staircase that went to a second level, where the kids had their space. I thought it was brilliant, and it was so flexible, I tore it out and stuck it in a notebook.” 
Mr. Liu moved into his apartment, an 1,100-square-foot loft in a former factory, for which he pays around $1,650 a month, about seven years ago. 
Since the loft is used for living and teaching, he put up a shoji screen to separate his bedroom and private meditation space from his teaching area. But visitors, he says, were always poking their heads in, and he wanted something that would give him more privacy. Also, when classes were large, there was no way to increase the floor space. 
“And there was that thing about being flexible,” says Mr. Liu, who also does translation work. “I couldn’t move the meditation tearoom. I wanted to design the work space so that it could also turn — turn it toward the light on a sunny day, or in a different mood, turn it to the wall and meet a deadline.” 
So Mr. Liu hired Mr. Kasai, who is 38 and owns Spaceflavor, an architecture and design firm, with his wife, Annette Jannotta. Mr. Kasai also happens to be one of Mr. Liu’s feng shui students. 
Mr. Liu originally wanted to have shoji screens on the exterior walls of the cube, but Mr. Kasai told him that it would add nearly $10,000 to his $20,000 budget, and considerable bulk to the cube. Instead, he persuaded Mr. Liu to use simple roller shades, which cost only about $630. The open-wall design required a steel frame, which was the costliest element in the cube, at $12,000; the plywood and plexiglass for the walls and the woodwork, including the hidden cabinetry, cost $6,600, and the electrical work was $1,400. 
For his design work, Mr. Kasai charged Mr. Liu only a token fee. “Ming is my feng shui teacher, and he retaught me how to design our physical environment,” he said. “And we loved the concept of the cube. How often does an architect get to design something so outrageous?” Lighting was important in the little cube. Mr. Kasai and Mr. Liu wanted a design that would allow light to shine through, so that the cube would not appear too opaque or solid. In addition to the roller shades, a small shoji screen was added in the wall between the sleeping area and the office. 
“It’s like a little eye,” Mr. Kasai says. “Basically it’s the heart of the cube.” 
There are electrical outlets for lamps in the sleeping compartment, an overhead light in the study area, and outlets for plugging in an electric teakettle in the meditation space and tearoom on top of the cube. When Mr. Liu ascends the staircase, he can stash his shoes in a hidden compartment in the stairs. 
One aspect of the design that the pair consider particularly important is its portability: If Mr. Liu moves, the cube can be taken apart and reassembled. And when it is broken down, no part of the cube is wider than three feet, so it can fit through a standard door. 
For now, however, Mr. Liu seems most taken with the cube’s ability to turn in response to his moods, as well as the way it creates opportunities to appreciate beauty. 
Before he had the cube, he says, he couldn’t see anything but downtown Oakland from his loft windows. 
Now, sitting on top, he can see the hills and the sunrise. And at night, when the lights in the cube are on and the shades are drawn, it becomes a lantern. 
“I had a dinner party where it was glowing at the other end of the room,” Mr. Liu says. “Everybody was mesmerized.”